A Race Well Run

Randy Ballard is retiring on January 5.  We’ve set aside a special day to celebrate properly his 23 years of ministry with us, but January 5 will be his last official day on staff at Providence.

On the one hand, I imagine that you join me in being excited for Randy—and his new liver—as he realizes his long-cherished dream of retiring at Holden Beach with Debbi, sitting by the ocean, becoming a regular at the Provision Company, spending time with his family, and savoring winter weekends without the sound of countless basketballs dribbling on hardwood floors.  Randy has been looking forward to this next chapter in his life for a while, and now, with his health improving each day, he’s at the point where he can finally enjoy what he has earned.  All this is true.  We’re happy for Randy.

But, on the other hand, we’re really going to miss him.

Before I came to Providence a little over three years ago, someone gave me this piece of advice: “Listen to Randy.  He knows more about that church than most people have forgotten.”  I’m not always good about taking advice, but that time I listened—and I’m glad that I did.

I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve plopped down in a chair in Randy’s office and asked him a what, why, or how question about Providence: What is the story behind this issue?  Why are things done like that?  How did it come to be this way?  Getting good, reliable answers to these kinds of what, why, and how questions is essential for any new pastor who’s coming into a church and trying to figure out the lay of the land.  As the longest-tenured member of Providence’s ministry staff when I arrived in 2016, Randy proved to be a tremendous resource for me in this way—and for that, I am grateful.

I suspect that my experience of Randy as an insightful colleague, a dedicated leader, a sincere servant, and a fun friend to have around is one that’s pretty common at Providence. He built a recreation ministry that is, in many ways, a model for other churches to emulate.  He nurtured a fruitful missions partnership with Metro Baptist Church in New York City.  He saw an opportunity to reach young professionals in our church and started intentional, creative, regular ministry events like Pub Theology.

There is, of course, much more that I could add to this list.  Randy loves Providence Baptist Church.  His ministry has helped shape us for the better.  He has been a mentor and an encourager.  He has been a voice for compassion, for social justice, and for the practice of treating everybody like the children of God that they are.  He can tell a joke and he can take a joke.  He has a gift for listening to a discussion, cutting through all the excess verbiage, and asking the one, necessary question that nobody else thought of, but should have.  As we walked out of staff meeting on one such occasion, Randy turned to me—face half-hidden by the omnipresent hoodie, but satisfied smile clearly visible—and said, “Not bad for the dumb rec guy, huh?”

I expect that we’ll have ample opportunities to express our gratitude to Randy between now and his official send-off.  As his strength returns, hopefully he’ll be able to be here more on Sundays and Wednesdays.  On March 8, as a church, we’ll thank Randy together, tell him once again how much we love him, and then wish him well with what comes next.

Thinking of a fitting benediction for this former coach, I turned to 2 Timothy 4:7, where Paul writes that he has finished the race and kept the faith.  That feels appropriate.  Now, may God bless Randy with the right spot on the beach for his chair, many happy days ahead, and the satisfaction of a hard job done well.

May the peace of Christ be with you!